parents

'That time I got escorted out of restaurant for changing a nappy on a table.'

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“Was it that bad?” I whispered to my husband, as we fled to the car. Everyone in the fast-food restaurant was glaring at us, and I felt utterly humiliated.

“Well,” he mused, “you did just change Emmy’s nappy on a table that people eat from. A lot of people would think that’s pretty gross.”

I swear, I used to be so much cleaner. But now? I’m the sort of person who gets security called on them at a fast-food restaurant.

Since becoming a mother, I’d become something else, too: disgusting. And I hadn’t even realised it.

My hygiene standards had slipped so slowly. A showerless day here and an unflushed toilet there (I didn’t want to wake the baby, after all) had all led to this shameful moment of public grubbiness.

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. But once all of the staff turned up to berate me, plus a security guard, I realised how out-of-touch I’d become with social norms. And it was all because I was so focussed on my kid.

Carla and her daughter

Here’s what happened. During an hour-long car trip home from our friends’ place, Emmy had smushed up several home-made muesli bars and then tipped the crumbs over her head.

She completely freaked out, because the muesli was all down her top and in her nappy, and she was uncomfortable. My husband, Jeff, couldn’t concentrate on driving because Emmy was screaming so much.

We pulled over at the first chance we got – at a petrol station with a little fast-food restaurant attached to it, nestled right on a busy highway.

I grabbed my crying kid and bolted into the fast-food place, and did a five-second scan for a toilet or parents’ room. I couldn’t see one, so I made a dash for the outdoor tables. They were right next to the highway, and no-one was eating there. It was the perfect place to discreetly change Emmy.

Listen to Carla explain what happened here:

I worked as quickly as possible, stripping her down and pausing only to pick out several chunks of muesli from her bellybutton. “In my button,” Emmy observed. I also changed her nappy, which was mostly dry, but also filled with cereal.

“Excuse me,” called a young male voice from behind me.

I turned around to see one of the staff members from the fast-food place, leaning out the door.

“There’s a parents’ room inside,” he told me. “It’s got a change table. A full change table. It’s got a toilet. It’s got everything. I don’t want to be rude or anything…”

Here’s a life tip: when someone says they “don’t want to be rude”, it means that they are trying extra-hard to be polite, because they actually think you are a shithead.

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This is when it dawned on me that maybe I had broken some sort of social rule – the unspoken rule of no naked toddlers or cereal-filled nappies on restaurant tables, even if it’s at a fast-food restaurant.

Emmy with MESS

“Sure, I’m so sorry,” I babbled, hoisting Emmy onto my hip and walking back into the fast food restaurant to find the parents’ room.

Only, I didn’t get very far because every single staff member had gathered in front of the counter. Everyone was there, from the kid who flipped burgers to a giant, black-clad security guard who was twice my height and width. And they all stared at me reproachfully, as though I was the most repulsive person in the world.

They stopped talking in the way that people do on reality TV, when the villain walks into the room. You know, the villain who trashes the bathroom or leaves hairs all over the bathroom floor – the one who’s gross.

There were no smiles to be seen, and the manager wielded a clear spray bottle filled with a blue liquid, ready to attack the table I’d defiled.

“Uh, excuse me,” I mumbled, as I squeezed by. It was at this moment that Jeff returned from filling up the petrol tank, and he witnessed my shame.

I’d love to say that we left immediately, dignity intact, but I also really wanted a chocolate milkshake. So we waited a few more painful minutes to get our drinks. Then we got the hell out of there.

On the drive home, I obsessed over what had just happened. I was so mortified that I was forced to confront an ugly truth.

Since becoming a mother, I’d grown careless, inconsiderate and pretty much revolting, as the pace and responsibilities of parenting consumed me.

But do I regret my actions at the fast-food restaurant, and do I care what other people think? No. And I’d do it all again, because I would do anything for my daughter.

And furthermore, wouldn’t you try to help any human being who has muesli stuck in their bellybutton? To let a fellow human travel through life with the equivalent of a box of Carmen’s in their bellybutton is just cruel.

But jokes aside, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not disgusting. I’m just a mother who is trying to do her very best… especially if there’s a chocolate milkshake waiting for me at the end of it.

Listen to the full episode of This Glorious Mess on iTunes or here:

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